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Sarkozy and the Media; Obama Clinches the Democratic Nomination; Journalists Protest Abduction of Reporters in Brazil

Aired June 6, 2008 - 20:30:00   ET


MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Max Foster in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
Coming up, a history making week in U.S. politics. Barack Obama clinches the Democratic presidential nomination. Does a new phase in the election mean a change in how the race is covered?

Journalists protest against the abduction of two reporters in Brazil. Officials admit it's possible police could have been involved.

And later, CNN's eye on France. The press and the president. After a year in power, we assess Nicolas Sarcozy's relationship with the media.

One of the longest most drawn out primary races in U.S. politics has finally come to an end. Barack Obama has managed to defeat Hillary Clinton to represent the Democratic party and will face Republican John McCain in November's presidential vote.


BARACK OBAMA, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tonight, I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States of America.


FOSTER: Now with few clues as to what she really wants next, Hillary Clinton this week thanked supporters in an e-mail and pledged to help Obama in the name of party unity.

Well, let's look at the media's handling of the race and what the next five months might have in store. From Washington, we're joined by Chris Cillizza. He's author of "The Fix" on And Mark Jurkowitz, he's associated director with the project for excellence in journalism. He's been tracking media coverage of the 2008 campaign.

First of all, Chris, if we can come to you. There is a conspiracy theory. You'll know about it. But most journalists, most political journalists just favor Obama. And that has been reflected in the coverage that he's received in the press. Is there anything in that as a journalist?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, AUTHOR, THE FIX, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: You know, to my mind, there isn't. You know, I do think there's a tendency, especially because Barack Obama was a fresh faced, someone we didn't know all that much about, and when I say we, I mean both journalists and sort of the average voter. There's a tendency to spend a lot of time researching his story writing about his story. And when the story says interesting as this one is, you know, a guy with a biracial background, goes to Harvard Law School, becomes a community organizer, runs for the state Senate, and then all of a sudden is the U.S. senator and a presidential candidate, that's an alluring storyline from a reporter's perspective. I don't think it says bias.

But the other thing I would point out is I think that this kind of working the referees as we all it in the United States goes on quite a bit. You know, both sides, depending on who you support, both sides tend to think that the other side is getting the better coverage.

And it's a little bit, to my mind, of sort of picking and choosing the stories that you highlight or choose not to highlight. I think generally, the coverage has been relatively fair in terms of being scrutinizing of both Obama and Clinton.

FOSTER: Well, because it's such high profile story, a lot of research is being done into this. Mark, you're an independent voice on this as it were. You researched the media coverage. Just tell us, do you think from your research there has been any favor towards one of the camps in this primary season?

MARK JURKOWITZ, PROJECT FOR EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM: Well, you know, from our research, and we just released a major report on this last week, if you look - and we looked at the three sort of main primary months, early primary months, January and February and March of this year, what we found out, and we studied campaign narratives in the media, candidate narratives in the media, meaning what was - what were the media saying about the candidates' qualifications, their leadership, their character?

We found minimal, almost no difference in terms of negative and positive in the coverage of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And as time went on, we found that Barack Obama's coverage actually got worse and worse and more negative and more negative as Hillary Clinton's fundamentally stayed the same.

And we also know in the period of time that went past our study, that if you're really look at the last two months or so of the primary campaign, Barack Obama bounced from sort of media crisis to media crisis, from the Reverend Wright fiasco, to the comments about bitter voters, to the Father Phleger situation last week. So he had a couple of months of really kind of rough coverage at the end of the campaign.

The one candidate we found, who had done somewhat less positive than the Democratic candidates, was John McCain. His coverage improved over time, but he was sort of dogged through the primary season by this overarching concern, was he conservative enough? Was he a real conservative?

Now in the general election, that might accrue to his benefit. But in a Republican primary field, that was a negative that he had to work to overcome.

FOSTER: Yes, and Chris, it's interesting because McCain actually made some comments about media coverage of Mrs. Clinton. He said he had great respect for her campaign and service in the Senate. And he blamed the media for overlooking how compassionately she spoke to the concerns and dreams of Americans, millions of Americans. So it's interesting that we've focused a lot on the negative aspects of Hillary Clinton's campaign, but perhaps we forgot a lot of the good work that she did.

But is there any truth in that? Or is that just John McCain's interpretation?

CILLIZZA: Well, to - I hate to be too cynical, but I do think there's a little bit of Machiavellian calculation there by John McCain. I think by courting Senator Clinton supporters, by appealing to what he knows Senator Clinton supporters believe was an unfair treatment of her in the media, I think he's offering an olive branch and saying there is a home for you in the John McCain campaign in the general election.

You know, we've heard much and written much over the last few months about the possibility that whichever Democratic candidate came up short, that his or her supporters might either stay away in November, or vote for the Republican candidate.

So I think John McCain in doing that was playing on what he knew is a belief that exists among many Clinton supporters that she has been treated unfairly.

FOSTER: He has got a battle on his hands, hasn't he, in terms of press coverage now, because you were talking earlier about Obama being such a great story. A lot of journalists are going to really buy into that. They want to believe that story.

So how's he going to compete with that, do you think? How can he compete with that?

CILLIZZA: I think it's difficult for him. The reality is is whether you support Barack Obama or don't support him, there's a historic nature to his candidacy. He's the first African-American to be nominated by a major party on a national ticket. And that is in a compelling, alluring, interesting story for any number of reasons, not the least of which is because it goes all the way back to the, you know, the founding of the United States and slavery and sort of the progression of race relations in this country from then to now.

McCain does have to contend with it. That said, McCain has incredibly compelling resume of his own. This is a guy who has served his country in any number of ways, including spending five years in the North Vietnamese prison camp. So it is not - John McCain is not someone who doesn't have his own story to tell.

The issue is he is facing someone with a really remarkable story that is historic. And so, I think that's going to be a challenge for him.

JURKOWITZ: Max, I would say this also about, you know, the sort of the general conventional wisdom going into this race was that John McCain is kind of a media favorite. You know, the straight talk express guy and the general perception out there is that the media liked John McCain and have liked John McCain. And you know, he has, you know, has done pretty well in his career.

Now it is interesting to note that as we look in the long arch of coverage of this campaign, that John McCain has had a pretty good story to tell too, because his campaign was essentially written off by the news media in early 2007. He was almost dead and buried in most media accounts of his campaign. So he's had a resurrection of his own. That's worth talking about.

FOSTER: And also, many parts of America, Mark, are very conservative. They are only going to listen to John McCain. So how are they going to react to this battle between Obama and McCain? Because there's a clear choice there, isn't there?

JURKOWITZ: Well, I think there's a clear choice. You know, I mean, it's going to be interesting to watch how this is run strategically. I'm not a political expert, but we've already seen John McCain, you know, in his - in the speech he gave on the night that Barack Obama clinched, sort of talking about himself wanting to be a change agent.

So in a sense, I think, they may both run on the same large theme. But one thing is certain. There are significant economic and foreign policy issues between the two campaigns, differences between the two campaigns. And I think that's going to affect coverage.

One thing we've known, and that's been lamented and talked about much in the American press, is the idea that the war in Iraq and coverage of the war in Iraq has dropped off the radar screen in this country, compared to what it was a year ago.

That is true. And that's true largely because in the two primary fields, there were minimal differences with the exception of Ron Paul on the Republican side, among the candidates competing. I now think you're going to see the Iraq War front and center, not only as an issue to be debated in this campaign and the general election, but I think you will now see the media refocus on the war as the candidates themselves define the narrative.

FOSTER: OK, Chris Cillizza of the and Mark Jurkowitz from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, thank you both very much indeed for joining us on the program.

Well, the U.S. presidential campaign leads us to our question of the week. Do you think the media has favored Barack Obama in the Democratic race? Register your vote on our website, While you're there, you can see all or part of this week's show. Again, view our archive and read the blog. It's at

Now targeting media work as two journalists working undercover in Rio de Janiero say they were kidnapped and tortured before being released. The attack prompted reporters to take to the streets in protest. Reporting in Brazil when we come back.


FOSTER: Welcome back. Now to Brazil and the case of two reporters who say they were kidnapped and tortured by a paramilitary militia that may have included police. The Ajear (ph) newspaper says a reporter and a photographer from the paper were abducted, along with their driver on May the 14th and held in a shanty town, where they've been working undercover. Ajear (ph) reported the two were beaten, given electric shocks, and had plastic bags placed over their heads before being released.

The attack prompted journalists to protest against what they call the impunity that allows such attacks to take place. The demonstration was held on the anniversary of the killing of TV global reporter Tim Lopez.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROGERIO MARQUES, RIO DE JANIERO JOURNALISTS UNION (through translator): These armed guerilla groups are still controlling these areas. And that is absurd. This is pathetic. It is absurd that years after the torturous murder of Tim Lopez, we are still dealing with the same thing.


FOSTER: Now state officials say it's possible road police officers were involved in this latest incident, and acknowledge the paramilitaries control the slum, where the reporters say they were held.


FERNANDO GABEIRA, RIO DE JANIERO STATE LEGISLATOR (through translator): Rio de Janiero is a city that is occupied by forces that do not work for the government. So we are now determined to progressively bring freedom to the state.


FOSTER: On Wednesday, local media reported an arrest in the recent Rio de Janiero case. And Reporters Without Borders says attacks on the press warrant a federal commission to investigate.

Well, let's get more on this and the issues confronting reporters in Brazil. For that, we turn to a director with Reporters Without Borders, Tala Dowlatshahi. And we're joined by Rogerio Simoes. He's from the BBC's Brazil service.

Thank you very much for joining us. Rogerio, first of all, it does seem as though reporting in Brazil has being very difficult in recent years in certain parts of Brazil. It seems a situation - seems to be getting worse. Do you agree with that?

ROGERIO SIMOES, HEAD OF BBC BRAZIL: Well, I think in the past five to seven years, especially in the big urban centers with the strengthening of some armed groups, the drug dealers or these new militias, especially in Rio de Janiero, I think the situation is now tougher. It's more difficult than actually the present press is facing a reality that it's not used to face, especially that kind of thing, torture and you mentioned the killing of five years ago, the reporter from Global Television.

These are cases and situations and threats that Brazilian press and Brazilian journalists are just not used to.

FOSTER: Taia, what's your impression about why this seems to be becoming more of a problem?

TAIA DOWLATSHAHI, REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS: Well, it seems that there's a triangle of trouble really brewing, where you have paramilitary forces that are ex police officers, fire fighters, security guards that were hired initially in Rio and the outskirts and the slums to protect civil society from the drug gangs, who are now putting their hands in the kitty, shall we say, and really trying to get into the money laundering business. I mean, in some of these incidents, it's petty money laundering in terms of stolen car parts and slot machines and so forth.

Now journalists who are reporting on these corrupt people are getting violated and attacked in high numbers, where the state security forces are really now calling for the federal investigators to get involved.

Our secretary general Robart Menard sent a letter to President Lula, asking for a federal commission to be established to put pressure on Rio and San Paolo, where another journalist from TV Diario, Mr. Ferraz was shot at in his vehicle on May 15th by - whether it be paramilitary or those linked to the police who said that they just weren't pleased with him reporting on corruption issues and money laundering within the districts of Sao Paolo.

So it's a very troubling situation for our organization. And let it be said that Rio and Sao Paolo should be looked at because Brazil has a very active journalist community. A lot of Internet users. Very large community of Internet users. And so, we really want to make sure that the president and his ministry is involved in really putting pressure and lobbying for these police or paramilitaries to be investigated and put on trial.

FOSTER: And Rogerio, there's so many shocking things about this latest case in Rio. But one element of the shock really comes from the fact that police officers seemed to have turned a blind eye. We don't have any evidence for that, but we have heard it before. What do you make of that? And it's pretty worrying, isn't it, for reporters? If you're going to send them to that area, they're not going to be protected by police?

SIMOES: Yes, I think this shows how difficult and how different this new situation is in Brazil, because the nature of these militias groups in Rio is not actually that known.

So as you rightly said, we don't know exactly how involved former policeman or policemen are in this group. It's not as the case of with drug dealers in which the Brazilian press was kind of used to dealing with. We knew more or less who these guys were. But these militias are a new element in the violence and criminality in Rio. And we don't know much about them.

FOSTER: But what do you do? I mean, if there's a story in that area that you want to cover, surely you'll be worried about sending any of your reporters there. I mean, would you send reporters there? If you did, what sort of conditions would you put on them?

SIMOES: We could, but the reality in Brazil now that requires that we have a much better plan in that we would let's say turn toward 15 years ago. I think the reality now requires editors in Brazilian newspapers, in Brazilian television to really plan ahead much more carefully and do risk assessments in a much more wise way, because as I said, the reality's new. And the Brazilian press is not that used to confronting that kind of a problem, that kind of challenge, and the kind of danger.

So I think in terms of risk assessments and good planning, I think editors must be much more careful now.

FOSTER: Yes, Tala, doesn't that become an issue when you can't really send reporters freely to those areas? And therefore, you're not really getting the true stories from those areas?

DOWLATSHAHI: That's right. I mean, look, at the end of the day, the government is involved from the highest level. They're going to put pressure on these state officials to get their act together and put in place a protection for journalists that are covering these corrupt officials.

The problem is that the police are directly involved. And so when you have people that are being hired to protect civil society and also attacking civil society, then you really have a situation that needs to be handled through a federal commission that puts more pressure on these state officials.

FOSTER: Rogerio, you're in contact with people in Brazil with journalists in Brazil and Rio, how worried are they at this time, compared with previous years when we have had sort of events like this, but not nearly as bad?

SIMOES: Yes, I think there are two main concerns. One is, of course, the safety of the journalists and whether people might get hurt trying to do their job basically, trying to show how militias operate, how the reality in the favelas is. And so, I think the main concern is about safety of journalists trying to do their job.

But the second concern, which is I think is very important as well, is actually the danger that the media feels under pressure from these groups, whoever they are, because of these violent act. And the media starts to impose some sort of self censorship and stops doing what they have to do, stops going after the important stories like trying to show the lives of people in the favelas. So I think that will be very damaging for Brazil.

FOSTER: OK, Rogerio Simoes of the BBC, thank you very much indeed for joining us. Also, Tala Dowlatshahi of the Reporters Without Borders organization, thank you very much indeed.

Now he's attracted coverage normally reserved for celebrities. France's Nicolas Sarkozy often makes the headlines because of his private life. We look at the leader some deride as President Bling and how he's fared in the press since he took office just over a year ago. It's part of our eye on France.


FOSTER: Welcome back. CNN has had its eye on France this past week. We've been looking at the nation just over a year after voters elected Nicolas Sarkozy as their president.

The new leader has attracted plenty of media attention since he took power, coverage that would normally be reserved for celebrities instead of politicians. The headlines have been dominated by what's happening in Mr. Sarkozy's private life, like his marriage to the former model Carla Bruni.

So a year into his job, should media attention be focusing more on policies than the president himself? Well, let's bring in Jean Lesieur. He is executive producer for magazines and talk shows with France24.

Thank you very much indeed for joining us. Is the media in love with Nicolas Sarkozy? Or is Nicolas Sarkozy in love with the media?

JEAN LESIEUR, FRANCE24: Well, you know, I mean, it's a two way conversation. You know, Mr. Sarkozy is a modern politician. And any modern politician, you know, likes to charm and sometimes seduce the media. At the same time, you know, he is a great story. In any country, Mr. Sarkozy would be a great story, you know, a new president who has an exciting and rich private life. You know, he married one of the most beautiful women in the world. I mean, in which country would not that be a great story?

FOSTER: The accusations are perhaps that he once constantly feed the press with a series of stories. So he doesn't have a proper chance to be digested and analyzed. He wants to keep the stories coming. So he's constantly in the press. The stories themselves, rather than the analysis. Is there anything in that?

LESIEUR: Well, I wouldn't say so. I mean, I've worked for, you know, various French news magazines. I'm now working for a international French TV channel, which is publicly financed. And you might think that Mr. Sarkozy and you know, French politicians would always be after us, you know, telling us what to say. You know, in the year and a half since France24 has bee on the air, I don't have any example. I don't have any clue of, you know, what the Elysees has been trying to tell us to say.

You know, there's no - I think it's not fair to say that Mr. Sarkozy is any different from any other president or politician.

FOSTER: As you say, he is a great story. He will continue to be a great story, but is there risk that he could almost be in the media too much? He could be over exposed, which could work against him as a politician?

LESIEUR: Yes. It - and it did work against him, because you know, when he was such a great - I mean, when his private life was such an exciting and great story, of course, you know, you could see that in the polls, you know, his popularity rate was going down because, you know, people got the impression at times that he was more worried about this future, his present with his former wife, or his future with a new wife. And you know, at the time when you know, there was the economic crisis and France had very serious problems, you know, if people got the idea that he was more concerned about his love life, of course that was detrimental to him. And but I think, you know, he realized it and he has corrected it.

He has not corrected - I mean, his life, his private life has settled somewhat. So people don't pay as much attention to it. And recently, you know, his popularity role -- I mean, rate has been growing a little bit. And there is probably relation between the two.

But at the same time, you know, you can't question him for being concerned about his private life. And you cannot argue with the press for making a story out of it because it was exciting. After all, you know, magazines sold lots of copies at the time when his private life was in the forefront.

So you know, it's a game that, you know, it's a game in any democracy that sometimes goes a little too far, and goes too far for the press. It goes too far for the politicians. But you know, eventually balance is found. And that's what's going on now.

FOSTER: OK, Jean Lesieur of France24, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Well, that's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Max Foster. Thanks for joining us.